Ivan looked at Vlad, his oldest son.
“Son, you will be in charge of the orchard next year. You will oversee the men and the guards. Next year you turn our luck.”
The older brother looked at the tiles on the floor, reflecting the sunlight. He followed the shining trail of dust specks in the air and looked out the window for a moment before answering.
“I won’t work in the orchard, father.”
“What?” - Veran snapped.
“I’ll patrol the fields with our riders.”
“You will do no such thing!”
“Our armed forces are in disarray. Bandits are terrorizing the villages and the roads. Traders refuse to come here anymore. I will pull together the men and ensure the safety of the trade routes. More merchants will come and pay taxes. They will bring spices and fabrics that we can’t get here.”
“You want to fight in the fields and worry about silk and spices while there’s a tragedy in the very heart of our family? When we should be looking inwards, you want to go chasing bandits? I shouldn’t have expected different from a brute. You held a sword before you held a spoon.”
He then turned his eyes to Stan, the middle brother.
“I know you have more reason in your mind, Stan. Maybe I should’ve made your older brother spend more time with you and your tutors. Who says the sword is stronger than the pen? You will be the person who revives our house’s symbol of power. Next summer, we can invite boyar Kalo here and dine with his family under the golden apples. What say you?”
“I will be more than happy to meet Kalo, father.” - Stan replied.
Ivan smiled and opened his palms towards his son.
“But I won’t do it in the orchard.”
His father breathed out of his nose and slumped back in his chair.
“We are alone, father. We need allies, and unlike apples, they don’t just grow on trees. I will meet with the other houses and reestablish the connections you’ve long forgotten. Maybe we can arrange a marriage for Vlad and, in a few years, for Ozren as well.”
“Why don’t you go and marry some lord’s daughter then, instead of playing matchmaker?” - Veran asked.
“I’ll do what I can to get our house back on the political map, but my dreams go beyond land and apples.”
“We struggle with a thieving populace and a crisis of our moral symbols, and you want to scatter all around the land to fulfill your personal ambitions? We should be uniting as a family and facing those challenges together. What example are we giving to the future generations of our house?”
“If we stay in the keep and fret over apples, we won’t have a house!” - Vlad yelled.
“How dare you? I’ve ruled for longer than you’ve been alive, boy. Trust me to know a few more things than you do.”
“It’s pointless, Vlad. Let it go.” - Stan said.
“You can go beat an innocent man to death. I guess that’s what good rulers do.” - Vlad said
Vlad cleaned his mouth with a napkin. He pushed his chair back, the wood screeching over the stone tiles. He then stood up and left, followed by Stan.
“I will help you with the orchard, father. We can grow the apples while my brothers are away. That way, we’re all going to do something for the family.”
“I know you will, Ozren. You have your mother’s heart. You would never betray me.”
The dining hall echoed with laughter when the boys were little. Their cheery voices bounced from the stone walls making every dinner a celebration. It sounded like a whole legion was dining at that table, not a family of five. You could only hear the echo now when they yelled at each other. Their mother lit numerous candles on the table and the windows, so the hall was always shining no matter how dark it got. Now the servants put enough candles to see the meat on their plates. That’s the difference one person makes.